Arts & Entertainment

Labor Day concerts mark beginning of Eckart Preu’s final season with Spokane Symphony

Thousands of people gathered on the grass at Comstock Park, Sept. 4, 2017, for the Spokane Symphony Labor Day Concert. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

When Eckart Preu made his debut as music director of the Spokane Symphony 15 years ago, he decided to switch things up a bit at the orchestra’s annual Labor Day concerts.

Instead of ending the concerts with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” which he was told was a staple of the concerts, Preu closed the program with music from John Williams’ “The Phantom Menace” and encores including Felix Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” and Johann Strauss’ “Radetzky March.”

Then came the audience feedback.

“I made that mistake once,” Preu said with a laugh.

Every year since then, the “1812 Overture” has closed the symphony’s Labor Day concerts, and this year is no different.

The symphony will perform Saturday at Pavillion Park in Liberty Lake and Monday at Comstock Park, with Saturday’s performance marking the 18th annual Ludlow Kramer Memorial Concert, sponsored by Friends of Pavillion Park and Innovia Foundation.

Preu and assistant conductor Jorge Luis Uzcategui will share conducting duties during both performances.

Also following tradition, the concerts will kick off with John Stafford Smith’s “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Between the patriotic pieces, Preu had a little more freedom and chose a selection of pieces that give audiences an idea of what to expect from the symphony’s upcoming season.

Bedrich Smetana’s “The Moldau,” from Má Vlast, for example, will also be performed Sept. 8 and 9 during “Classics 1: The Bohemian Spirit.”

The piece will be followed by Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

The first piece Uzcategui will conduct, Antonín Dvorák’s “Slavonic Dances, Opus 46, No. 8,” is next.

“It’s obviously Slavic in sound and Dvorák being a Czech composer still makes it sound very universal and everybody will enjoy it,” he said.

Investor and philanthropist Bill Fix will guest conduct John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” before Uzcategui returns to the stage to conduct “Harry’s Wondrous World,” from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” and highlights from “Jurassic Park,” both by Williams.

The symphony will perform “Haunted Hallows: The Music of Harry Potter” on Oct. 27.

“Of course those almost need no introduction than being super, super popular for everyone,” Uzcategui said. “This is a concert for the whole family. Kids love these pieces and the parents as well.”

Following a performance of “Lullaby,” by Preu’s older brother Hans-Peter, the concert will end with the “1812 Overture.”

Both Preu and Uzcategui see these Labor Day concerts as a chance to reach audiences who may not otherwise be able to see the symphony perform.

“The programming is purposeful,” Preu said. “It’s not just random flower arranging, even though it might seem that way. It’s purposeful because it serves both for the entertainment and, of course you want to play some popular music, but it’s also there to introduce a lot of people who are not that familiar with the symphony and what we do and how we play and what we play.”

“Accessing more than 10,000 people in two days, it’s amazing,” Uzcategui said. “People that otherwise wouldn’t be able to maybe even afford a concert, they’re able to have fun and sit in a very relaxed way. It shows that the symphony is out there, reaching the community and making real efforts to reach out and make music accessible to everyone.”

Each year, the Labor Day concerts act as a kick-off to the symphony’s season, but this year, they also mark the beginning of Preu’s final season with the Spokane Symphony.

Preu will begin a three-year term as music director of Maine’s Portland Symphony Orchestra with the 2019-20 season.

Preu admits that he has yet to really think about his time in Spokane coming to an end, likening it to thinking about death.

“You’re aware of it. It’s approaching, but it’s of no benefit actually to think about it,” he said. “As always, I try to make the best music as possible to reach out to as many people as we can and have a good transition …

“Of course it’s my last time so the thoughts creep in, but it’s not really helpful for me so I try to push it aside, put it on the back burner. It will come to full boil at some point, just not now.”

Uzcategui credits Preu for making his time with the symphony and work with Music Innovates, an after-school program through Spokane Public Schools that offers free music education to students in third through eighth grades, so wonderful and believes Preu’s legacy will last long after his final season comes to an end next year.

“Having been able to work with Eckart and helping out and assisting him for the past four years has been an experience that I could not think it could have been better with anybody else,” he said. “He really made my experience, and I’m sure he also made the Spokane community much better with his presence over the last 14, 15 years.”